Cabbage and Kraslice: Two Kitchen Comforts of Traditional Czechoslovakia

Happy April and happy Saturday dear kitcheners. Thank you for your patience this week while I took a couple of extra days to get this post together. As I mentioned on Instagram the other day, Friday has become the new Wednesday around here and then it became Saturday, at least when it came to this post:)

Adjusting to the new normal, this was the first full week that our farmers market has been officially closed, so sourcing two of the ingredients for this week’s recipe turned into a little more of a treasure hunt than anticipated. This was also the first week, we had to wait in line at the grocery. Have you guys experienced this yet? It wasn’t too bad – just about a 20 minute wait each time, but it did feel strange. While I waited I thought about all the people who waited in soup lines during the Great Depression and the bread lines in Russia just two decades ago.

Last year at this time, I was buying homemade bread, local strawberries and spring lettuce at the farmers market.

Since the farmers market is within walking distance and open seven days a week, I hadn’t realized how spoiled I’d become when it came to shopping every few days for food for the Vintage Kitchen posts or for household staples. But now that it is recommended that we all shop a week or two in advance, it has taken a little bit (actually a lot!) of extra organization on my part. So thank you for bearing with me.

Today’s post takes us to Czechoslovakia, a country that as of 1993,  is no longer called that. Two decades ago, the country split into two parts, forming two separate nations and came to be known as the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I can imagine that on the official day a country declares a name change there is lots of celebrating going on and a renewed sense of optimism as to better opportunities ahead. In keeping with that notion, this week we are celebrating too. Today is Week 12 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour 2020, which means we hit the three month mark and are officially 1/4 of the way through our year-long global culinary adventure. How exciting!

Clockwise from top left: Armenian Stuffed Meatballs; Picadinho a Brasileira; Fried Fish Wrapped in Paper; Colombian Beef and Vegetable Stew; Rum Punch; Maple Walnut Tart

So far we’ve made meatballs in Armenia, talked about hometown pride with Viktoria in Austria, and danced with Harry Belafonte in Barbados. We have also cooked our way through the wildfires in Australia, the tornado in Nashville and the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

Clockwise from top left: Santiago Pork Roast; Fondue Bruxelloise;Sauerkraut Soup; Queen Mother’s Cake; Ceylon Curry; Viennese Chicken

There have been movie and book recommendations, a vintage playlist to set the cooking mood and a craft project designed to spark good memories. Together we have celebrated lunch time, cocktail time, dinner time and dessert time.

Clockwise from top left: We toured Austria with Viktoria; read The Hundred Year Walk in Armenia; discussed the history of Fondue in Belgium; discovered new old art in Brazil; danced to Calypso music in Barbados and met the Queen who inspired a cake in Australia

We’ve made food for cold weather, for hot weather, for mountaintop vistas and seaside beaches. We’ve fried and flipped, boiled and baked. It’s been action packed these past three months for sure.  The world is definietly not the same place that it was in Week 1, but I hope the Recipe Tour has been as fun and delicious for you as it has been for me.

Clockwise from top left: We saw the Comfort Tree in Canada; watched Liz Taylor light up the big screen in Ceylon, made floating paper lanterns in China, decorated Easter eggs in Czechoslovakia, discovered the effects of color therapy in Colombia; and learned all about tropical fruit from a Cuban farmer.

This week we’ll be exploring another beef based recipe, Czechoslovakian Sauerkraut Soup, a healthy comfort food that is not only great for balancing your digestive system but also adds a healthy dose of color and Springtime flavor to your table.

Czechoslovakian-style Sauerkraut Soup

On the cultural side, we are back in the craft studio, this time decorating Easter eggs in age-old Czechoslovakian fashion. Like the Chinese floating paper lantern project, this heritage craft is also laden with symbolism and positivity to help keep our spirits and our spaces filled with hope.

This time, we’ll start with the soup first, since it is a slow cooker of a recipe.  Requiring about 3 hours of cooking time and 20 minutes of vegetable prep, this so far was the easiest of the dishes to make in the Tour. Basically hands off (with the exception of the initial vegetable prep), the oven and the soup pot do all of the work here, leaving you free to do something fun (like Easter egg decorating!) while it cooks.

Featuring the humble, hearty cabbage (a fridge staple that stores easily for two weeks or longer) and quick roasted beef bones (a freezer staple that stores for months), this recipe is quarantine friendly, feeds a crowd and freezes beautifully. A better, more flavorful version of vegetable soup, thanks to the tangy addition of sauerkraut and earthy bone both, it is both a comfort food and a healthy powerhouse loaded with immune boosting vitamins and minerals.

Czechoslovakian cuisine, like Armenian food, was highly influenced and inspired by its nearby neighbors Germany, Poland, Austria and France, all of whom lent their culinary flair to Czech kitchens throughout history.  Predominately fans of an animal-based diet, the traditional Czechoslovakian home cook strived to master a dynamic range of rich flavors by combining starchy foods with a variety of vegetables and meat. Their cooler climate called for more durable produce and cold weather crops like winter greens, cabbages, carrots, onions, squash and potatoes.  The kinds of food that keep you feeling warm and fed on a cold winter day.

One of the challenges I encountered this week in the ingredient sourcing, was the beef bones and the short-ribs. Normally, I prefer to cook with grass-fed beef, which I usually purchase at the farmers market. Since the market is closed for the time being due to the pandemic,  it turned into a little adventure around town to see which grocery store would offer an equivalent. The first grocery carried no grass-fed beef. The second only offered grass-fed ground beef. The third store, finally was the ticket. In case you are struggling with this same scenario in your town, I am happy to share that Whole Foods carries  a variety of fresh grass-fed beef cuts. There, I was able to find the short ribs and the beef bones all in one spot.

The  most interesting twist on this recipe was the inclusion of both pickled sauerkraut and fresh cabbage. Sauerkraut is a centuries old food, first appearing on menus in the 1600’s, but this recipe makes it taste fresh, vibrant and modern. Hearty without being heavy, this soup is a delicious choice for springtime weather that yields warmer days but cooler nights. Pair it with slices of whole grain bread and butter or toast points and you have simple fare made from fridge, freezer and pantry staples.

Sauerkraut Soup

(Serves 8-10)

2 lbs short ribs of beef

2 lbs. beef bones

1 cup chopped onion

3 carrots, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

2 quarts water

2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes (one 20 oz. can)

8 cups shredded cabbage

Salt 7 freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons sugar

1 lb. sauerkraut, squeezed dry

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Place the short ribs, beef bones, onion, carrots, thyme, garlic and bay leaf in a roasting pan.

Bake for about 20 minutes until the meat is brown.

Transfer the mixture to a large soup pot. Add a little bit of water to the roasting pan to dissolve the caramelized pieces and then pour the pan juices and contents into the pot. Add the remaining water, tomatoes, cabbage, and salt and pepper to taste.

Bring the mixture to a boil. Skim the fat from the top. Simmer for one and one half hours. Add the lemon juice, sugar, sauerkraut, and more water if necessary. Cook for one hour longer. Serve with sour cream.

With Easter less than two weeks away, I thought it would be fun to pair this post with a craft that Czechoslovakians are famous for… decorative Easter eggs. Also known as symbols of rebirth and new life, eggs are a good way to add a comforting sign of hope to your home.

Whether you celebrate the holiday or not, this is a fun seasonal project that you can keep year-round if you blow the eggs out before decorating them. Heavy in symbolism, these delicate eggs contain all sorts of hidden meanings in their design and color arrangements.  According to Czech culture, green symbolizes nature and growth and is believed to offer protection from illness. So I chose that color scheme as a way to visually fight back against the coronavirus.

Traditionally, Czechoslovakian artisans used beeswax pens, etching needles or straw to make designs on their eggs before dipping them in naturally colored dyes. I used a pencil and markers to draw my designs since I didn’t have a beeswax pen.

I also reverse dyed my eggs (taking them from brown to white) using a 1 cup to 1 cup vinegar and boiling water solution. The eggs boils for 20 minutes in this vinegar bath and then, once rinsed under cold water they can be fully wiped clean of their brown color. Here’s what one egg looks like halfway through the 20 minute boil…

Traditionally in Czechoslovakia, red was the most popular color egg, because it was the easiest color dye to make (thanks to berries and beets!) and represented beauty, health love and vitality.

Over time and many experiments, a rainbow of colors added their own special sentiment. Yellow symbolized good fortune since it was the color of grain. Blue represented heaven, white equaled purity and black symbolized ceremony.

Regarded as a highly skilled art form known as Kraslice (meaning embellished egg), Czech-style egg design takes years of practice, patience  and a steady hand to master. Many are still hand-painted today but some are mass produced as well to meet demand in the global marketplace. Designs range from simple sprigs of flowers or branches to highly ornate patterns, detailed animals and interlocking shapes.

Examples of different designs and colors. Photo courtesy of the Association of Painters of the Czech Republic.

Most Czech egg designs feature balanced imagery that is has been laid out in grid fashion beginning with a horizontal line and a vertical line that intersects in the middle of each egg like a cross.

They look complicated but once you start sketching them out, they are actually fairly easy to replicate. Here are some templates designs to follow or to help inspire your creativity…

Last year I painted Easter eggs with gold metallic paint. This year, I am adding to that collection with the new Czechoslovakian designed eggs. It will be fun to see what next year’s designs will bring and to watch this collection grow year after year!

The gold and white eggs were last year’s Easter craft project. Now the Czechoslovakian style eggs will be added to the collection this year.

Cheers to Czechoslovakia for adding two new comforts to our kitchen in the form of soup and eggs! Hope this post keeps your belly full and your creativity fed this week:)

Join me next week for Week 13 of the International Vintage Recipe Tour, as we make our way 2,800 miles south from the Czech Republic to Dahomey, our third country in the Tour that has been renamed due to changing history. In the meantime, stay safe, stay healthy and eat your soup:)